Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lectionary 17
2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Öto the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.

Sometimes there is a word found in a passage that is translated differently in every version of the Bible. Each word means basically the same thing, but each word also gives a unique point of view. Each translation is valid and each translator is using the word they feel best describes what the writer of the passage had in mind. It is helpful to check out several versions of a particular passage to notice the possibilities.

Take, for instance, the verse listed above (Ephesians 3:18, ASV). In this version, Paul tells the Ephesians to apprehend the extravagance of God. The New International Version translates the word ďapprehendĒ as ďto grasp.Ē New Revised Standard Version (and several others) uses ďcomprehend.Ē The Message uses ďtake in.Ē Several versions use the word ďunderstand.Ē You can see that these words have the same meaning, but our understanding of the text is dependent on our understanding of the word used. Some of these verbs are passive, meaning that the action involved is not physical. However, the word ďapprehendĒ gives the sense of physically grabbing that which is being discussed, in this case the extravagance of God. This is why it is good to see what other translators have to say.

With this in mind, I want to share the whole verse as it is found in Eugene Petersonís ďThe Message.Ē Though this is not a translation, I love the language he uses to portray the idea that Paul is sharing with the people of Ephesus. ďAnd I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christís love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you knowófar more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!Ē

In this version, Paul is calling for the Ephesians to physically experience the goodness of God. He wants us to reach out, test it, measure the depths and rise to the heights. Do we do this? Do we take our faith to the extreme and live in it with our whole selves? God is bigger than we can imagine, and if we limit our experience of God to what is found in our minds, we will definitely never really know or comprehend or take in or understand how great He truly is.

So, in todayís passages, we see faithful people taking their trust in God to the extreme. We also see those whose faith is shallower. They believe, but they arenít willing to trust in God for reasons we canít know for certain.

A teacher notices that a student is chewing a piece of gum. The classroom rules state that no gum is allowed, and though the teacher has a number of excellent reasons to keep gum out of the classroom, she addresses the gum chewer with the question, ďDo you have enough of that gum to share with the entire class?Ē When they do not, the teacher insists that if they canít share, then they shouldnít have any themselves. Even if the kid happens to have enough to share with the whole class, it is unlikely he or she would want to. They might share with their good friends, might even share with acquaintances, but classrooms are filled with conflicts and many students would refuse to share with those they perceive as enemies. ďWhy waste a piece of gum on that jerk?Ē they think.

There are plenty of reasons to refuse to share, greed is only one possibility. Our world certainly wonít fall apart if we run out of gum, but what would happen if a mother runs out of milk for her child and canít get more? Would it be smart to save what little she has for her family because what good will it do if she saves the life of another but loses the life of those she loves? We worry that we are going to run out, so we withhold a portion to ensure our future. This might seem smart, especially in these days when tomorrow is uncertain, but when is sharing a matter of trust? When do we let go of those things we think we will need tomorrow to give it to those who need it today?

In todayís Old Testament lesson, Elisha is given the first fruits of a farmerís crop to be used to feed the prophets. The company of prophets did not grow their own food. Like many pastors today, they relied on the gifts of Godís people to eat. Iím sureóas it is in todayís harsh economic climateódonations to the prophets were down because of the famine. If there are fewer crops to harvest, there are fewer first fruits to give to the prophets. If there are no crops to harvest, everyone starves. The farmer came to give his offering to God, and Iím sure it was with relieved enthusiasm that Elisha accepted the food.

Elishaís servant Gehazi was hesitant. We donít know why or what he was thinking when he questioned serving the food to the crowd. Twenty loaves of bread is more than you think it might be and we donít know how much of the grain he brought. It was probably enough to feed the hundred followers who needed to eat. However, they were in the middle of a famine. Did Gehazi want to save some for a future day and was afraid to withhold any from the hungry crowd? If this is the case, then Gehazi simply did not trust in the Lord as his master Elisha.

However, we also know that Gehazi was not an honest servant. In the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5), Gehazi ran after Naaman to collect payment for the healing, despite Elishaís rejection of any gifts offered. He lied and asked for silver and clothing to give to prophets that had supposedly joined the gathering. Then, when he returned to Elisha, he lied about being gone. He was a greedy servant and that may have been his motive in the story with the food for the prophets.

This story calls us to consider our own generosity or lack thereof. Are we giving our resources fully and completely or are we withholding something and why? What keeps us from sharing that which we have been given? Are we afraid we donít have enough for everyone? Are we afraid that we wonít have anything for tomorrow? Do we want to withhold from certain people and so keep it away from everyone? Are we greedy about our things? Whatever Gehaziís motivation, we know that Elisha trusted God. ďGive it to them; there will be more than enough.Ē Godís voice speaks the same to us. We do not need to worry about tomorrow, or even whether or not there will be enough for today. God will ensure that we have enough.

We hear a similar story in todayís Gospel lesson. This is one of my favorite stories, I suppose because I identify so closely to both Philip and Andrew. Iíve responded to Godís grace with both doubt and faith. Iíve withheld my resources out of fear and worry and greed and Iíve given my resources without reservation even when the need was simply impossible to meet.

I tend to over cook when Iím expecting guests. I am always afraid there isnít going to be enough. I know thereís enough food, but I can not get over that nagging feeling that Iím going to run out. I want all my guests to be satisfied, so I make sure that there is a feast to feed beyond expectation. Perhaps Philip was feeling the same way. After all, there was a huge crowd of people listening to Jesus. They werenít near a grocery store and there wouldnít be pizza delivery available for centuries. Even if there was someplace available to buy the food, Philip knew they didnít have enough money. No one in the crowd had enough money to feed so many people. It would be even harder to feed them to satisfaction. And perhaps Philip was a lot like me: if Iím going to feed a crowd, I want to make sure everyone is satisfied. One bite would not be enough, even if they could get that much food.

In Matthew, Mark and Lukeís version of this story, the disciples told Jesus to send the people away so that they could find something to eat. In John, Philip sees this as an impossible situation. Eight monthís wages would not even begin to feed the crowd. Andrew noticed a young boy with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He pointed it out to Jesus.

Jesus threw a potluck for five thousand, and only one small boy brought a dish. Yet Jesus was able to feed the entire crowd until they were stuffed full. In this story, Jesus filled the bellies of the people, supplied their physical needs. In the process, He taught the disciples a lesson in trust. God will fulfill their physical needs. Five barley loaves and two fish was the lunch of a small boy, but it would have probably have been enough to sustain Jesus and his disciples. How easy it would have been to keep it for themselves and send the crowd to seek food on their own.

I need to see hospitality through the eyes of Andrew. I need to stop worrying about whether or not I will have enough for everyone and trust that it will be. If I do my best and offer what I have, my crowds will be filled and satisfied. There is no need to worry. In the end, there are always baskets full of leftovers because God honors our trust. Andrew certainly didnít expect that the boyís small lunch would feed everyone, but he offered what was available. God did the rest.

When it comes to our own gifts and resources, we often think like Philip. ďLord, there isnít enough to make a difference, tell the people to go.Ē But, like Andrew, we are called to give to God what we have and let Him do the rest. Can we feed a city? No, but we can open up our cupboards and give what we have to those who are in need. There will be enough because God will bless the gifts and the trust with his strength and power.

The scriptures for this week make it clear that God is able to provide enough to meet the needs of those whom He loves and those whom He has called to share the Gospel with the world. Men like Elisha and Paul and Andrew trusted in Godís goodness and faithfulness, not worrying about what tomorrow will hold, but giving fully of the gifts they have in the present.

Gehazi and Philip were guided by self-interest; whether it was greed or fear, we might never know. I think many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, identify more closely to Gehazi and Philip than we do with Elisha and Andrew. After all, tomorrow is a mystery to us and we all know that the world can crash in around us at any moment. But we are called to live in faith and to trust in God.

What does this mean? Trusting God doesnít mean is letting Him do all the work. It means letting go of all our resources so that God can do miraculous things with them. We might not have much, but what we have is enough when it is multiplied by Godís grace. We might not have much time, but every minute we give to someone who is sad or lonely can make a difference in their life. We might not have much food, but every bite given will help sustain a hungry person for another day. We might not have much money, but every penny can be used to do good things for others. With Godís help, our minutes, bites and pennies become long glorious feasts.

So, it might seem ridiculous to think that two fish and five loaves of bread will feed five thousand, but our task is simply to give to God what we have and let Him do the rest. Jesus blessed that meager meal and made it feed many more than seemed possible. So, too, we may think that we do not have enough time, talents or resources to accomplish anything. But we are called to give everything we have and let God multiply it for the sake of the world. He wonít leave us without the things we need. He will make our gifts grow beyond our expectation; He will even make it larger than is possible.

We share because through our faith and trust God is glorified. God, the Creator of all things, is to be thanked for His amazing grace, providing food for all in its time. I think we are at a disadvantage living in our world as it is today. We donít have to worry about whether or not there will be food to eat. In the ancient days, if there was no food to harvest there was no food to eat. It didnít matter whether you were wealthy or poor. If the grain crop failed there was no bread to eat. Though many of us have experienced lean times when weíve had to dig in the couch for pennies to pay for a meal, we donít really know what it is like to live during a famine. We may have to rely on others, but food is always available.

Whatever we can afford to buy, we go to the grocery store and we see great harvests of food. We donít have to rely on the weather or hope a farmer will come bringing meager offering and so we forget that even the grocery stores are filled because of Godís grace. What if we were the birds of the air or the fish of the sea? Where would we get our food? They praise God in their own way because He provides for all their needs. Do we? Do we sing those praises and tell the world of Godís mercy and grace? Or do we take these things for granted and forget to thank our God and provider for all He has done.

When we forget His simple blessings, we lose sight of the fact that He is always near. And when we lose sight of His presence, we wander from the path He has called us to walk. So, let us praise God today for all He has given so that we will continue to live as He has called us to live.

Paul lives this way. In the text from Ephesians, Paul writes that because of all the great things God has done, he bows his knees to the Father ďfrom whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.Ē He remembers Godís grace and praises God for everything. He calls the believers at Ephesus to do the same. Paul is responding to the incredible acts of God in his life, in the lives of Godís people and in the Church. God has provided salvation to individuals, reconciliation between people and unification of those who believe by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, Paul is praying for Christ to continue the work begun in and through the Ephesian believers and in this prayer Paul is also reminding the people of Ephesus and every Christian since that Godís grace is bigger than anything we can even imagine.

God is the Father of all fathers, says Paul. Father doesnít necessarily stand for the male head of a household, but stands for those who are in power and authority over others. A king or a president is like the father of a nation. A CEO is like the father of a company. A priest is like the father of a congregation. There are different types of leadership and those called into those positions to guide and provide for the needs of those in their care. We are each leaders at some time, in some way and we have the power to do with our position whatever we want. But we are reminded that the person who is in charge is not the ultimate authority. He (or she as might be the case) receives power and authority from the Father of all fathers. This passage reminds us that God is the center and every good thing is rooted or founded on Him. What we have, including any power and authority, comes from God.

And since that power comes from God, leaders are called to lead as God leads. That which God has done is what they (we) are called to do. We canít save anyone, at least not in the sense God has saved us, however we can meet the needs that have left people oppressed and burdened. It is not enough to simply meet the physical needs of those who suffer; we are sent into the world to work toward reconciliation between people and between God and His people. Finally, the ultimate goal of Godís work is to bring people together, to unify all people into one body that will be the glory of God forever. We canít do this ourselves. It is only by Godís grace that we can accomplish this continuing work that began in Christ. However, God has given us all we need so that we will give it to others.

This is accomplished not through physical strength and power, but through love. Many leaders will take their resources and use them in a way that continues to oppress and burden the people to whom theyíve been sent. We may not always know their motivation. They may be afraid or worried about tomorrow. Or they may not want to lose their power so they hold on to at least a portion of their resources so that they will continue to have authority. This is not Godís way. He works through mercy, giving abundantly more than we can even imagine. So, as people founded in love, we have at our fingertips more than we imagine because Godís resources are wider and longer and higher and deeper than we can even know. We need not worry or fear about tomorrow and we can set aside our greed because God has offered us more than we can desire. He is our Father and everything He has is given for us to use to His glory. For in sharing Godís grace with others, people are saved, reconciled and unified and God is glorified.

This is how we experience Godís grace. It is not something we do passively. We do not simply understand in our minds or imaginations what God is and what He has done. We apprehend it with the fellowship of believers, taking it in, grasping it with our hands and our lives and our hearts. We respond to Godís grace by immersing ourselves in the breadth and length and height and depth of God, knowing the love of Christ by sharing it with others. In this way we are filled with the fullness of God.

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